Remember the horse and buggy?  You know, that equine-powered conveyance that whisked you down the streets with no sound but the clatter of hoves and metal-rimmed wheels on the road.  Traveling at speeds in excess of 4 or 5 miles per hour?  Yeah, those were the days.  The horse-drawn carriage certainly has some elements of charm which the automobile lacks, and its demise was certainly sad, but I wouldn’t want to go back.  Similarly, there has been a great deal of wailing and nashing of teeth in response to the unfolding demise of Tower Records, and I’m entirely sympathetic to the sentimental feelings of loss, but far too much of the discussion has been doom-and-gloom predictions of a serious blow to independant and classical music, and I’m not buying it.

Back in October, Anthony Tommasini wrote in the New York Times that “For many people, tracking down a CD online, with only various critiques by unknown purchasers to guide them, is not the same as mingling with other opera buffs in front of the Verdi shelves.”  Timothy Mangan, classical music critic for the Orange County Register, wrote “The death of Tower Records (bankrupt, liquidated) is a serious blow for classical music. . . .Browsing is important — absolutely necessary — for the classical buyer. . . Often, customers didn’t have much of an idea what they wanted when they walked in the door. . . . Which one of the dozens [of recordings of a given piece] offered they didn’t know; they’d browse and find out. . . Having a knowledgeable clerk on hand is also crucial to the classical-buying process.”

At the beginning of November, the AP reported that “Larry Kirwan, lead singer of the Irish band Black 47, was scouring the rock bins and mourning Tower’s imminent loss.  ‘It’s a bad day for music,’ Kirwan said. ‘It’s a bad day for independent bands. … Right from the beginning, even before we were signed with labels they carried us. They’ve been good to musicians.’  Kirwan said taking music off the Internet is not the same as buying a vinyl LP or even a CD.”

A couple of days ago “The Nation” published an essay by Max Fraser entitled “The Day the Music Died” in which he provides some additional interesting quotes:  René Goiffon, who runs Harmonia Mundi, says “a whole bunch of smaller labels are going to disappear completely.”  Russ Solomon, Tower Records founder, says “Who’s going to download an opera?”

First of all, Tower had 89 stores in 20 states, and presumably the biggest stores, the ones with the deepest catalogs, were in big cities, like the much-mourned store by Lincoln Center in New York.  The vast majority of consumers didn’t have access to a Tower Records, and even fewer people had access to the flagship stores.  The shift to digital downloads and internet retail which cut into Tower’s margins and led to bankruptcy has made hard-to-find music more accessable to most people.  In fact, the effect of the Long Tail makes it practical and profitable for an iTunes or an Amazon.com to have an extraordinarily large collection, one which would dwarf the offerings of even the biggest brick-and-mortar store.  The overhead cost to iTunes for having one more album worth of material in its catalog is negligible compared to the cost to a brick-and-mortar establishment to ship inventory and pay high rents for premium retail locations.  Amazon can afford to offer a single copy of an obscure CD to the whole country, increasing the likelyhood that the prospective buyer will find it — if that CD is on a shelf in the Lincoln Center Tower Records and the guy who wants it is searching the local record stores in Grand Rapids he’s not going to find it and everybody loses out.  Or, as the always sharp Matthew Yglesias puts it “A place like EMusic that doesn’t require a physical inventory has every incentive to stock (virtually) any album whatsoever that a record label is interesting in having them stock, something that no brick-and-mortar record store could ever claim.”

Matt goes on to observe that “Meanwhile, ‘discovering new musical acts while browsing the stacks and interacting with a knowledgeable staff’ doesn’t seem like an especially optimal method.”  Any number of social networking websites and music recommendation engines can point you in the right direction, and they all have more data available than even the best store clerk.  Amazon.com will tell you what other people who bought what you just bought liked, they offer reviews of the material from other consumers, and in most cases you can sample the music for free to see if the advice you got was any good.  How is the demise of Tower going to negatively impact small labels, exactly?  At Tower, even though they were open to stocking relatively obscure music you presumably still had to make the decision-makers believe that they would actually be able to turn a profit on the records they agreed to stock.  With digital distributuion and online-retailing the overhead costs for a given record are lower, so the sales rate can be lower and remain profitable.  Small labels should be more likely, not less likely, to be able to get virtual shelf space.  It’s already easier to make your music available for sale on iTunes than to get it onto a shelf in a bricks-and-mortar store.

The objection that a bricks-and-mortar store is better for the classical music fan who doesn’t know which version of Gotterdamerung to buy simply doesn’t hold up.  The new models offer a wider selection of versions, and usually offer samples of each version so you can figure out which sounds best to you.  And again, an online repository of opinions and recommendations would be a better way to choose a version than relying on the knowledge of one or two store clerks — no matter how knowledgeable they are, they can’t compete with the amount of information and opinion available on the web.

The remaining concern would be that classical audiences aren’t willing or able to move to the new model.  Personally, I still prefer to own a physical CD than a digital download — liner-notes are nice, I like the idea of always having a backup copy to any digital files, and I’m not sure I trust the Digital Rights Management used in downloads not to screw me over.  But I’m not being forced to buy downloads — I can shop at Amazon, get physical CDs delivered to me in a matter of days, and choose from a wider selection than Tower offered.  I don’t have to download that opera if I don’t want to.  On the other hand, digital downloading of classical music has actually been quite strong.  According to a study done by Grammaphone:
 - One in five classical music fans download music from sites like iTunes
 - Downloaders are downloading at rates comparable to CD purchasers
 - Downloaders over 50 years old download at almost the same rates as their younger counterparts
 - 22% (I’m not sure if this is the percent of classical music listeners or of CD buyers)  say they will start downloading within a year
Furthermore, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, classical music’s market share in CDs is 2.4 percent, but the share of the download market is actually higher.  This means that in fact a _larger_ percentage of classical music consumers get their music via digital download than do music consumers in general.

Is it sad that the once great Tower Records has met its demise?  Yes.  But the end of Tower Records is an inevitable result of the rise of digital downloads and internet retail, and  that’s a price worth paying.  And it’s not like bricks-and-mortar record stores are going to disappear entirely.  After all, you can still get a ride in a horse-drawn carriage in Central Park.

27 Responses to “The Towering Inferno”
  1. jodru says:

    Right on, except for the small labels bit.

    Small labels work tirelessly to develop relations with a chain like Tower so that when their bands have a show coming up in, say, Annapolis, the local manager of that Tower won’t hesitate to put out some extra CD’s near the register with a flyer or two about the show.

    Live shows are the lifeblood of small ensembles. That’s where you build an audience and sell your CD in a remote market.

    Simply uploading your latest release to iTunes just adds your music to the pile of other recordings like yours. Those old-time, real world, bricks-and-mortar relationships are the engine that have made small independent labels function so well in the past.

    That being said, they’ll adapt.

  2. david toub says:

    Galen, while I feel bad anytime a record/CD store goes under, it’s all a matter of supply and demand, and I’m not convinced this means that classical/new music is going under. Just the contrary—it’s simply changed venues, with more emphasis going to online music and downloads. This is a healthy trend, and Joe, I’m not sure there’s any reason why this should auger poorly for independent labels, either. Many independent labels, such as OgreOgress, actually find that they can have more gross revenue and net profit from downloading. And the Web is a great equalizer—you and I can have access to the small, more progressive labels just as easily as we do the majors.

    Of course, iTunes is not sufficient at this time for those of us who listen to new music. But it’s a good start. I suspect that there will be startups to fill this niche, offering mp3 and aac files of new music to a select audience.

    But a lot of new music gets circulated for free. Many of us essentially give away our music on our Web sites, and I only want to see this grow, since it will enhance the audience for new music (which will help those who sell their music online as well). Many of us send our MP3s to friends and fellow composers, forming a really nice ecosystem. Again, I think this is a trend that should continue.

  3. david toub says:

    So in other words, Galen, I agree with you—I probably should have been clearer about that!

  4. Interesting point about small labels cultivating relationships with the big brick-and-mortar stores. My counter-argument would be that presumably part of the reason that Tower went bankrupt was that fewer people were shopping there, which would likely mean that the impact of show promotion at those venues would be similarly decreased. Plus, the methods of finding out about shows and new acts that are available on the web are in most respects superior to flyers — personally, I’m not going to go to a show if all I know about the band is what I saw on a flyer, nor am I likely to buy the CD. Events calendars at newspapers and other websites, and the schedules at clubs, give me consolidated show information when I’m already in front of a computer and can pop over to the artist’s myspace page to get a sample and see if I’m interested.

    I’m not saying that some specific small labels won’t be hurt by the demise of Tower — if you have a strong reltionship with the store and not so strong of a web presence, you’ll have a problem — but the overall effect on independant music should be positive. And methods of online promotion, while they’ve gotten fairly sophisticated lately, are really still in their infancy, so I think we can expect better and better information to become available on the web over time.

  5. jodru says:

    Undoubtedly, the small labels will adapt.

    But to reinforce what Tommasini said (as silly as his example was), the digital marketplace doesn’t do a good job of replicating real communities (despite its skill at creating virtual ones). People live and work and entertain themselves in real world, brick-and-mortar communities, and it’s harder to target those communities in the digital world.

  6. Chris Becker says:

    All of the independent bands I know and work with sell the majority of their CDs at their gigs. Not at the brick and mortar stores. Next comes digital downloads. I’m not trying to counter Jordu’s point which I think is valid – but my experience is that the show’s themselves are the best advertisement for a CD.

    Now what happens if the music you create can’t be replicated live? That’s a good question – and a challenge I myself am facing with my latest CD. I have some plans and experiments I want to try – none of them involve the brick and mortar stores though.

    And finally, I love vinyl. Digital just…ugh. It’s my medium, I deal with it. But give me a record any day.

  7. Well, I certainly think that various online fora are better at giving recommendations than Tower. I listen exclusively to 20th-century music (well, now 21st, too). On a file-sharing network I frequent, there’s a Modern Composers room where there are always (24/7) dozens of highly knowledgeable contemporary music fans able to give advice and provide informative conversation on the music we love.

    Compare that to the Tower Records in the last city I lived in in the U.S. The clerks knew nothing about 20th-century music, and occasionally even belittled my tastes in what they called cacaphonous or boring music. No wonder the firm went under if a sales clerk there will try to talk you out of buying an item. Furthermore, the classical section was a well-known gay cruising spot, which meant that the seemingly friendly fellow customer asking you about the disc you’ve picked up might not have really cared all that much about the music.

  8. Chris Becker says:

    Christopher – Do you then purchase some of the music you hear via the recommendations on the file sharing network you frequent? I’m not trying to bait you – I’m just curious. If yes, do you download things digitally? Or do you buy the actual CD or record?

    I still enjoy actually BUYING something to play on my sound system. But I realize people consume music very differently than how I did growing up. And (as an independent artist) I want to know as much as I can about it.

    Chris

  9. Yes, I subsequently buy the music I download if it is available on disc. I spend a few hundred euro on CDs every month, and often from the small labels like BIS or Ondine. I’m well aware of the need to financially support the labels.

    My CD collection is now so large that there’s little on these networks that I don’t already have on disc, with one exception: recordings of radio broadcasts of recent important works. I love Magnus Lindberg’s “Concerto for Orchestra”, for example, and I’d buy it in a heartbeat were it to be formally released, but in the meantime I’m happy there are folks sharing this music that I’d have no opportunity whatsoever to hear otherwise.

  10. Although the Gramophone study reports that one in five classical music fans download music from sites like iTunes, this also means that four in five, or a whomping 80% of classical music fans, still do not download their music. This is not a glass half-full vs. glass half-empty debate no matter how you care to read the statistics; 80% is an overwhelming majority, much bigger than the margin by which the Democrats just retook both houses of congress. To quote Chuck D, I just don’t believe the hype for reasons I’ve already enumerated on NewMusicBox.

    I’ve been a record buyer since I was about 15. I’ve learned more from LPs and CDs than I ever did in any of my graduate school music seminars. Given no other option, I’ll occasionally listen to downloads of composers’ music if they themselves send it to me. But most of the time, I must confess, the sound quality and the listening environment makes my ears wander and rarely do I hear anything from start to finish. I’m not proud of this but it is my reality. The last place I want to experience music is via my computer and through the thus-far still unconvincing audio fidelity of most mp3s. My wife and I still haven’t opened the box containing an iPod which she won almost two years ago. With nearly 10,000 hours of music to choose to listen to at home, such a machine is frankly an albatross neither of us have the time or inclination to start messing around with.

    That said, I’ve dropped nearly a grand at Tower since the liquidation sale began and as a result am now in the process of learning about whole new universes of music including everything from J.C.F. Bach’s remarkable solo cantata Cassandra to late ’70s Swedish punk to some great field recordings from Peru. As for ordering such things online, a visit to a record store has always been a process of serendipity for me. I rarely go in knowing what I want and, when I do, I rarely walk out with either what I went in wanting (it’s often not there) or exclusively with what I wanted (I always see something else, too). The same joie de vendre just doesn’t happen very often with me on Amazon, despite their whole if-you-like-this-you’ll-also-like-that macro. (Their computer-generated suggestions rarely cut it.)

    As for the promptness of Amazon, ponder the following real life story which just happened to me: There was a disc of Francisco Tarrega’s solo guitar music at the Lincoln Center Tower which I considered buying but didn’t. It gnawed at me for several hours so I went back there and lo and behold someone beat me to it. When I tried to find the disc on Amazon, I encountered an all too common occurance on their site. Like so many things that are off the beaten path, the data entry input for this CD was not done too well. However, luckily, after a long chain of Boolean variants I finally did manage to locate it. (I don’t know how many casual music consumers are as patient or as obsessive-compulsive as I am to engage in such search queries.) Anyway, I ordered it and it took nearly a month to arrive. So much for prompt service. I’ve known folks who worked for Amazon who claimed that the time between T’giving and Xmas was an annual nightmare of gulag-esque proportions. But I’m still not faulting Amazon. I don’t work there. From my vantage point, It’s a busy season and they made it possible for me to eventually obtain and listen to this CD (which is amazing BTW), so ultimately I’m grateful. But I imagine in a post-Tower universe, they’ll be even more over-extended than they already are now. I’ve had similar experiences with other online disc dealers. Last year, another such service, ArchivMusic sent me the wrong CD, when I complained and sent it back, they sent me the same wrong CD again. I do have a soft spot for eBay, though.

    But in the more than 25 years I’ve been regularly buying recordings, I’ve found most of what I was looking for the old fashioned way: scouring the bins of record shops on five continents. Sometimes it’s taken a couple of years and I still have quite a long wish-list, but it’s been a fabulous adventure. That said, admittedly, I’ve always lived in New York City, I waited until 1994 to buy a CD player, and I still buy a title on LP over CD if it’s available in that format.

  11. Chris Becker says:

    Frank – what do you mean by “download” music? Do you mean sample music online in a streaming format? Or buy the CD via an online store? Or buy the recording in a downloadable format (like an mp3)?

    I’m not arguing with the statistic, but it’s not clear to me what Grammophone means when they say classical music fans don’t “download” music. Can you clarify (or maybe I should just go read your article in Nmbx…)

    CB

  12. david toub says:

    Frank, I think everyone is entitled to having his or her preferences respected. Some people will never warm to downloaded music, just like some didn’t take well to the advent of the CD. I confess that I was a die-hard LP person to the end, and didn’t feel the added expense of CDs were worth it. In the end, I succumbed, because there were just too many advantages to CDs over LPs, and over time, much of the music I cared to listen to finally did come out on CD.

    But we’re very fortunate in that we have access to many formats. Digital music downloads make it easy to back up a collection, take the music with you (honestly, a CD walkman just can’t compare to an iPod), and send it all over the place. I get a lot of CDs from people, albeit nowhere near as many as you must get. In the end, I don’t listen to many of them all the way through, just as you can’t possibly listen to MP3s all the way through. But it’s not the format in my case, but rather the time constraint. I can’t tell the difference in sound quality between a CD and a 128 kbps AAC or MP3 file. Even at 96 kbps, I’d be hard pressed to tell the difference. Your mileage may vary—there are people out there (all three of them) who have such acoustic sensitivity that they can discern such subtle differences. I just can’t.

    I think the experience is pretty acceptable from my vantage point. I’ll be leaving work soon, driving away in my blue Mini, and blasting some Julius Eastman or whatever from my iPod through the bitchin’ Harmon-Kardon sound system that came with the car (our 11-year-old volvo engine exploded just after I sold it to someone on Craigslist—glad it happened before they took possession of the car, which is now probably scrap metal). At work, I can listen to my entire 30.5 GB musical library on my iBook—that’s almost 20 days’ worth of music, and I don’t have to schlep a single CD.

    At the same time, I’ve been able to digitize many old LPs, some of which just can’t be had on CD at any price. I even bought another copy, in mint condition, of Rudolf Barshai’s Melodiya LP of Shostakovich’s 14th symphony—one of these days I’ll have to digitize that as well.

    So we live in great times. Yes, a lot of new music and classical listeners don’t do MP3s. But many of them will. My father, who owned a ton of records, was pretty dismissive of CDs, but in the end, he converted as well. I don’t know that anyone really has to convert to MP3 right now—there are still plenty of CDs, and will be for some time. But by in large, the day of the CD is coming to a close.

  13. Steve Layton says:

    Frank wrote: …. this also means that four in five, or a whomping 80% of classical music fans, still do not download their music. This is not a glass half-full vs. glass half-empty debate no matter how you care to read the statistics; 80% is an overwhelming majority, much bigger than the margin by which the Democrats just retook both houses of congress.

    Point#1: The simple statistic can be way too vague. For one thing, out of that total 100% pool of all classical fans, we already know that the percentage that are fans of music-after-WWII is only less than 10%. Of that 10%, it’s only a small percentage of those that are fans of the last 30-some years. What we don’t know is out of all fans that do download, what percentage is from each of these sub-groups?

    Point#2: That anyone’s crowing the death of the CD, or on the other side the failure of downloading, is both completely premature. I’m a very early download-adopter; I started with Emusic back in 1999. But that’s only been seven years, and really the mass public awareness is much younger than that.

    I started in the world of 45s and 33s, and I used to love to play my Mom’s old 78s on my same turntable as well. I remember my first cassette deck, my first 8-track, and my collections & experiments for all of these (I even bought and used an old wire recorder just for fun!). I remember walking into Tower in 85 or 86, when almost overnight all the glorious LPs were suddenly dumped into a couple huge cut-out bins, their place taken by all these little, practically-inscrutable plastic CD boxes.

    I also remember when all I wanted to do in college was get into the studio with the giant Buchla synth with all its bazillion patchcords, and there use the unsurpassable Ampex 1/2″ tape decks to make stunning recordings…. Hanging on my wall is a beautiful Duo-Art piano roll, which before 1915-20 was the LP & CD of the day, bought and sold by the millions. And I worked for many years at a very large photo-finishing plant, making millions of prints every day… all gone in just the space of a few years, closed and sold off for scrap after the majority of consumers moved to digital cameras.

    Some things pass, some linger. How much for each, time will tell. But it’s obvious that downloading is here to stay and will only grow, quite possibly enough to become the new dominant medium.

  14. david toub says:

    But it’s obvious that downloading is here to stay and will only grow, quite possibly enough to become the new dominant medium.

    Steve, beautifully said. Now I need to figure out what to do with my old 78s

  15. Seth Gordon says:

    I”m not lamenting the death of Tower any. I just stopped in the other day to pick over the carcass and was amazed by what I saw – even at 40% off, there were still a number of CDs I could find cheaper elsewhere. That’s just ridiculous. If their initial prices were that high, they deserve to have gone out of business.

    Case in point: over in the soundtrack section there was a bin with – I kid you not – over 100 copies of the same CD. A soundtrack to an obscure movie from, like, five years ago ( Wayne Wang’s “The Center Of The World”) – and even with the discount it was still, like, eleven or twelve bucks. Now, that’s cheap for a CD, yes – but you’d think, a five year old soundtrack to a movie that never cracked the top twenty, that you’re stuck with over a hundred copies of? $11.00 should have been the freaking sticker price.

    Down in the rock section there was a collection that the label had tagged with a sticker with a little blurb about how this was a two-disc set at a special price – $15.98 – only Tower tried to hide that fact by covering it up with their own $18.98 sticker. Idiots. Good riddance to them.

    As to the 20% of classical music fans who get their music via download: how many of them are actually paying for it, and how many are just downloading from the others in the “Modern Composers” room and not spending a dime?

  16. Speaking with other people in the Modern Composers room, most folks buy plenty of CDs. One of the most frequent topics of conversation is what we bought today. The only ones who download exclusively are those who live in places where there’s no distribution. I spend several months a year in Romania, and there’s little classical repertoire on sale there (a few Maria Callas operas and budget symphonic reissues at the largest bookstore) let alone contemporary music, so it’s no surprise lots of people come to the Internet to hear that kind of music.

  17. Jeffrey Quick says:

    Retail bricks-n-mortar classical is dead.
    Everyone who ever did it halfway well has gone to hell. When Best Buy first came to Cleveland, it was halfway decent, but with the amount of noise in a typical BB, they weren’t going to attract classical shoppers. Borders was once fine, but they’re starting to look like “all crossover all the time” too. But I remember Liberty Music Shop and Schoolkids and Discount Records in Ann Arbor in the ’70s, along with used shops almost as good. And the place in the Arcade in Cleveland in the late 80s. All great…but never enough. And the Net IS enough.

    Being in the Flyover, we had no Tower. Christmas of 1996, I went to NYC to help get over a bad divorce, and Jeff Harrington took me to a Tower where I saw a divider card for my old classmate Karolina Eiriksdotter. Not just a CD, but an effing DIVIDER CARD. That, to me, symbolized the Tower experience…too much of everything, right there in front of you. And the Net experience is better in some ways, but it lacks that element of surprise. You KNOW that Amazon will pretty much have it all…like your wife. A new retail store is like a date; maybe you won’t go there again, but maybe you’ll go all the way.

  18. Chris Becker says:

    David! Don’t get rid of your 78s!!! Think about it, what form of sound record is still with us after several decades? 78s, vinyl records…data on CD-Rs vanish. Taple disintegrates. CDs you bought at Tower will probably lose all of their digital data in 100 years…but 78s, records…

    Maybe you should instead think about transfering all of your digitally recorded material to vinyl? I think that might be a nice project for me when I’m (God willing) in my 80′s, 90′s…

  19. Well, gosh, Prof. McJ had his say via his own blog. Here’s my Tower commentary from October 16:
    http://maltedmedia.com/people/bathory/waam-20061016.html

    Dennis

  20. david toub says:

    Chris, don’t worry—no intention of ditching my 78′s, even if no phonograph today can play it that I’m aware of. The old 78s are incredible, BTW, even if impractical.

    Digital to vinyl??? I’m not so sure of that…

  21. Chris Becker says:

    David – Think about it – what sound recording medium is still around after all these years? Vinyl! I’m gonna research this a bit over the holidays…I should get some facts before I go any further…

    You might be able to find a record player that plays 78s in your neighborhood Salvation Army. I actually found one in an antique store in Houston not too long ago – it was just a portable record player that also had a radio built into it! Very cool.

    I think you’re right (but I really don’t know for sure) – I think you would have to buy an old piece of gear to play 78 rpms…

  22. Stanton digital turntables play 78s.

    You need a 78 stylus; they’re available from http://www.needledoctor.com/

    Dennis

  23. pseudonymous in nc says:

    As I said chez Yglesias, classical labels (and artists) are perhaps in a better position to adapt to the decline of bricks-and-mortar music sales, precisely because their business model isn’t built around selling large volumes in relation to heavy marketing. This doesn’t necessarily mean downloads will completely take the place of CD sales: subscription models such as John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach Cantata cycle also show a willingness to experiment. Obviously, there’s an issue of audio quality, but broadband permits lossless downloads these days, and the Philadelphia Orchestra and Magnatune are running with FLAC — no DRM — and free MP3 previews. Classical works haven’t suffered as badly from the curse of deletion — enough vinyl releases have found their way to CD — but digital distribution also opens the possibility of bringing recordings out of the archives.

    So, classical artists and labels really aren’t in the same business as the majors who need to shift tens of thousands of CDs. It’s those majors, I think, who suffer most from the shift away from bricks-and-mortar.

  24. I think pseudonymous has a point. The record business was originally dominated by classical music, and it lost its way when “business” pre-empted the music (less disastrously than the health care system, but I’m struck by the similarity in effect). I used to run a record store, Discount Records (two actually – in Burlington, VT and Boston). Discount Records was a chain founded by Marvin Saines, who conducted orchestras in his spare time. A lot of the managers had “apprenticed” at Sam Goody’s, and were classical music specialists – they all loved classical music. Somewhere along the way, things changed, and classical lost its dominance. Discount Records was sold to CBS, who in all honesty were pretty decent people. About 1973-4, things really started to change. The emphasis changed from charging the same for all records, to thinking that selling 300 albums with a 10 cent profit (or less) was better than selling 30 at $1 – loss leaders. Stores like Strawberries and Peaches opened. It was cool to go around a store with shopping carts. Record label salesmen could just have well been selling refridgerators, it was just product to them. The passion was gone, to say nothing of the knowledge, which was beginning to be ridiculed. The chain was sold again in 1976 to a company in Minnesota that was a suburban chain with a horrible mentality and terrible business practices for a store in a city. It was basically the end of Discount Records, which had always been really good. I never could get into Tower – too many bins full of duplicates and confusing classifications. However, if they had stuck to selling records/cds, they might still be in business.

  25. Marc Sacks says:

    I buy a lot of classical CDs. I also do a lot of downloading. I have never paid for a download, and I’ve never downloaded anything illegally. I download .mp3s from places like the Internet Archive, Ubuweb, DoveSong, and lots of other free sites, including a number of sites of new music composers. I pay for physical things. I’m also old-fashioned enough to burn my downloads to CDs; I have no interest in putting my whole collection on an iPod.

    I have occasionally bought CDs from artists after downloading some of their work, but I’d never pay to download a file, whether it’s a piece of music or a magazine article (and I buy lots of magazines too). I’m not interested in ripping anyone off; I just don’t like to pay for a product I can’t hold.

    And as for iTunes: what’s a “song” anyway? 99 cents for a movement of a symphony, or a whole act of Tristan (kind of a hard thing to break into arias, after all)?

  26. Keith Kothman says:

    I think that there is both a generational and geographical nature to the responses here. Most people who are seriously bemoaning the loss of Tower had physical proximity to it, and a long relationship with it.

    From a generational standpoint, I’m old enough to remember the thrill of going into the Westwood CA Tower for the first time, and finding out that they had a completely separate store for jazz and classical. Wow. But i was a tourist. Later on, when I lived in Southern CA I would sometimes drop in to one in Orange County along my commuting route. It was still a thrill to find some of the obscure pop things that I would hear on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic, but the tiny room for classical/jazz/opera was already a disappointment.

    A Tower opened up near campus while I was a grad student at UCSD. And I had that thrill of finding a CD with one of my pieces on it – 4 copies – and going back later to find that three of them were gone (purchases I hoped).

    But that time and proximity has long passed. I, too, am in the flyover, and until recently without even a brick-and-mortar bookstore of any significance (now, Books a Million is a thrill). Frank Oteri mentions the length of time it took to find an obscure recording online, and to have it shipped. If I had to be in proximity to someplace to get it, I would be waiting much longer than a month!

    Online retailers and digital downloads have allowed me to stay connected and part of the larger culture. The emergence of social networking is developing ways to supply advice, and allow for much greater input if one chooses. It’s harder for older populations to trust things like MySpace, but the younger generation has largely already adapted.

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